As an equitable distribution state, South Dakota may seem like the place where you would obtain a fair division of assets during your divorce. Equitable distribution means that the courts split your joint assets and debts, accounting for many factors so that each spouse receives a portion of the estate that is fair. The court may consider your salaries, the value of any personal assets, your individual debts and the length of your marriage, among other details.
However, despite the efforts to make the split fair, not every divorcing spouse in South Dakota ends up with the portion of assets he or she deserves. Those spouses may struggle financially in the years following the divorce. If this is a concern of yours, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of obtaining a truly equitable share of assets.
Preparing for property division
Whether you are letting the courts decide your property division or you are working it out with your spouse, you may find that it is not always obvious which assets are part of the marital estate and which are separately owned. In fact, one of the first things you might do from the earliest stages of your divorce is to identify and document those assets that are not part of the marital estate. These may include gifts, inheritances or property protected by a prenuptial agreement. Other steps to take include:
- Appraising property with uncertain value
- Opening individual checking and savings accounts and dividing monthly income until the court determines how income will be officially divided
- Closing joint credit accounts, paying off those you can and freezing those you cannot pay off
- Starting to build your own credit history separate from your spouse
- Making copies of all financial records
- Establishing a legal agreement about how you may use remaining joint accounts
- Changing the title of your home and other properties to include "tenants in common" to protect your share in the properties
While your spouse's misbehavior such as adultery may not affect your property division, if that affair resulted in the dissipation of marital assets, you may have claim for a larger portion. Additionally, a spouse who spent frivolously and extravagantly during the marriage may end up with a smaller portion of the marital estate. Dealing with these delicate issues may require legal assistance to ensure you receive your fair and just portion of property division.